When I was a teenager, I read an article about author W.P. Kinsella where it said that he wrote 900 words every day. “That can’t take more than an hour or two; some life these professional writers have!” is what I remember thinking at the time.
Then inevitable rejoinder is, “well, why don’t you try it?” And the answer of course is that such output is harder to manage than it sounds. A writer who hit Kinsella’s daily quota would grind out just under 330,000 words over the course of the year—enough for about four novels of respectable length.
It was about a year ago now that I began work on what became my first eBook. So with this nostalgic anniversary on the door step, I thought I would reflect on the past year’s writing totals.
The first draft of 25 Principles clocked in at close to 110,000 words. My Springsteen project currently sits at about 50,000. I have another pot-boiler project that totals 10,000 and since November, I would estimate I have churned out another 10,000 or so in postings for this blog. So my sum total from end of January 2013 to end of January 2014 would be around 180,000.
That sounds impressive, though I doubt that it counts as being prolific output. In the indie publishing world, there are people who claim they grind out 20,000 sometimes as many as 50,000, words in a single week. If I wrote full-time, I think I might hit 20,000 over a very good seven day period; I don’t know how anyone would reach 50,000 without the assistance of methamphetamines.
Still, that 180,000 total feels significant. There is an old writer’s maxim that states that every writer has “a million words of crap” that they have to discharge from their system before they start producing work that can be considered “good.” It’s kind of a variation on Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of the 10,000 hour rule. The figure of one million words isn’t a hard and fast one; some writers contend that the threshold could actually be as low as 693,000.
In any event, I feel like I have served a good chunk of a long apprenticeship now. The past year’s output forms a big part of it, but my training has been underway for far longer. The journey has included hundreds of press releases, endless scrolls of web copy—not to mention the horrible fiction writing attempts of my younger years.
The incremental nature of writing (and getting better at it) is a bit like the old philosophical puzzle of how many grains make a heap. I don’t know exactly what I have right now or what I am moving towards. It probably isn’t mastery but it’s something.